Counties Manukau 46
Mid Canterbury 10
On a slippery night when good skills show out, the Steelers displayed enough of their wares to subdue a worthy Mid Canterbury challenge in Pukekohe.
It wasn't flawless stuff, by any means, but Counties Manukau's ambition was there, and, on occasion, over-ambition. They saw home their advantage in the second half, however, when they racked up 24 unanswered points.
Mid Canterbury had the wind in the first spell, but virtually no ball until the 20-minute mark, and they looked tentative as the Steelers hoed into their work.
Steelers blindside flanker Dan Hyatt enjoyed his night. He scored the first two tries, within just five minutes, running a direct angle (that is, straight) and then gave the last pass for fullback Jared Page to score. He also made a 60m carry. Centre Sam Vaka was looking dangerous, their rolling maul was operating effectively, and it looked like a cricket score was in the offing.
But the Hammers hauled themselves back into the contest, hooker Jon Sharpe diving over, just after his fellow front-rower Tokolua Tolu had butchered a try with tunnel vision, and former Manu Samoa rep Esera Lauina almost latched onto a crosskick from No 10 Murray Williams. At 22-10 at the break, it was game-on.
The Steelers wanted a swift return to their structures for the second stanza, and with the wind they wrested back the initiative inexorably. The lineout work of captain Ronald Raaymakers and the ball-carrying of lock Sikeli Nabou were complemented by the work in the loose of Hyatt, Onosa'i Auva'a and the powerful Maama Vaipulu. That allowed four tries to be added in the second half. Vaipulu scored one of them off a scrum pushover while wing Toni Pulu added another on the end of the chain.
Page added another 16 points and, with his 33 on debut last week, he must think this rep footy is a doddle.
For the challengers, openside flanker Sam Houston was busy in his 45 minutes, while captain/No 8 Jon Dampney, the reigning Heartland Championship player of the year, knows only one way to play (hard). The seasoned Williams showed his class with two breaks and good control of proceedings.
First five Michael Stanley made his debut for the Steelers.
The win carried Counties Manukau's head-to-head record against the Hammers to 5-0. Their Shield reign now also stands at five successful defences too. The next challenger will be Otago on August 23.
Counties Manukau (Dan Hyatt 2, Jared Page, Maama Vaipulu, John Tu'ungafasi, Toni Pulu, Andy Muirhead tries; Page 4 cons, pen)
Mid Canterbury (Jon Sharpe try; Murray Williams con, pen)